Colombia by Land
18 January 2018
As unpleasant as Colombia is by sea, it is a delightful place to visit by land. Santa Marta is a sprawling city with a popular sea front. We were told right away by the marina that Santa Marta people are “happy and safe.” They were all of that and more. Not much English is spoken so we spent some time with “Spanish for Cruisers” an excellent language tutor for us. Restaurant prices are very reasonable, even the excellent higher end restaurants. Street vendors crowd the major streets, all welcoming. We often heard, “Welcome to Colombia.”
The working part of town was an interesting 12 block walk. The blocks in this area seemed to specialize in a certain trade. Several blocks had small, auto parts shops. Cars parked in front were jacked up, replacing brakes, mufflers and suspension parts. There were fruit and vegetable areas and some with fresh meat or fish. Fruit and vegetables were very fresh and great prices.
Lisa and I were admiring a very large tree. An older man brought a handful of unusual seeds, gesturing that they were from the tree. I wanted to find an aluminum pole to replace the whisker pole. I received a lot of directions and help but couldn't find the right piece of tubing.
Minca is an area in the Sierra Nevada mountains, above Santa Marta. There is a rushing river through this area with many falls. Coffee farms and nature preserves make this area great for eco tourism (whatever that is). We booked two nights in Casa de Azul, a basic hotel with 10 rooms on the Minca River. This place is basic! But it was clean, served nice meals and had delightful staff. They welcomed Sophie and she was on her best behavoir. Chris and Karen from Skabenga were with us as well as new friends, Ian and Cathy from Sea Cloud. We had a great time hiking in the area. One day we hiked 8 miles and gained about 2,000 feet of elevation. We were whipped! The only way down was to walk or ride on the back of motorcycles. Six tiny motorcycles (150cc) arrived to carry us back to the hotel. This was a thrill ride over rough dirt roads. My driver didn't put a wheel wrong. I kept calling him “Rossi” and he would go a little faster.
Cartagena is the oldest Spanish port in the new world. Gold from the area was loaded onto ships here, bound for Spain. The British, French and Dutch pirates knew this well and regularly attacked Cartagena. The Spanish built a walled and fortified city to protect their treasure. Here they built a thriving and opulent city with cathedrals and beautiful parks. This is a major tourist area and we enjoyed exploring here.
Just outside the walled city was the village of Gethsemani. This was where the poor people lived who worked in the walled city. We stayed in a small hotel here. Gethsemani has become the bohemian area of Cartagena and we loved it! There was a small square near our hotel where local residents as well as tourists congregate every evening. It was a delightful, neighborhood scene.
Colombia is noted for emeralds. I researched emeralds online at the marina and was armed with some basic information. Lisa and I shopped extensively for just the right earrings. Yes, we found them!
It was well worth the 4 hour bus ride from Santa Marta to Cartagena. If you believe Colombia is a dangerous place over-run by drug lords, think again. It is a beautiful place to visit......by land, not so much by sea.
Our recommendation for cruisers sailing from the Eastern Caribbean to Panama would be to skip Colombia. Spend all the time possible in Los Roques, Venezuela. Fly to Colombia from Bonaire, Curacao or Panama. Hotels, meals and travel are quite reasonable in Colombia. You will save the $1000 in marina fees for a marina that will fill your boat with sand and dust. But do visit this delightful country.
Colombia by Sea
17 January 2018
Colombia is a delightful place to visit....just not a yachting destination. Marina Santa Marta is a first class marina and the city of Santa Marta is an enjoyable place to visit. Minca, mountain eco tourism area, is an hour taxi ride from Santa Marta. It is also easy to get a bus to historic Cartegna. But one has to endure the Colombian capes when sailing from the ABC islands. One French sailor mentioned the capes of Colombia are rated as the 5th most treacherous in the world.
Skabenga and Uproar left Bonaire in 15 knots of breeze for the 350 mile passage. Karen Shipley had re-joined Skabenga. When we arrived in Santa Marta, Lisa and I were wondering if she was booking a flight back to Wisconsin! Yes, it was a good one. The first cape was Paraguana, Venezuela. We were sailing along smoothly until then. A squall hit pretty hard with 40+ knot winds. And it lasted for at least an hour. After the squall, the seas were sharp and large (3 to 4 meters) and the wind continued over 20 knots.
We radioed Skabenga that we were diverting to Aruba for repairs. At that time we weren't sure if we would stay in Aruba or continue. We tore our main during a reef. One squall brought a big wind direction shift which gybed our whisker poled out jib. The carbon fiber whisker pole whipped back to the shrouds where is snapped in half. I'm ashamed to admit it but we foolishly were towing our dinghy. We could easily have lost it in the squalls and seas. We sailed 15 miles to a protected cove off Aruba, hauled the dinghy and taped the small tear in the main and stowed the damaged whisker pole.
We left Aruba late afternoon in easy sailing conditions, it was just a 4 hour delay in our trip. All night we had less than 15 knots and sailed comfortably. The next day was also pretty benign. Peninsula De Guajira is noted for rough conditions but gave us an easy pass. Then on to Cape de la Agula, only 5 miles from Santa Marta. The wind blew and the sea flew! We don't have wind instruments on Uproar but have a pretty good idea how strong the wind was. When we are surfing down waves at over 11 knots with just a small jib out, it is blowing squirrels out of trees. Skabenga saw 50 knots. We had over 35 knots continuously with much higher gusts. Seas reached 5 to 6 meters! These seas are not ocean swells, they are sharp, wind driven waves.
The autopilot had trouble in the waves and we skidded down a few of them sideways. I steered by hand the last 4 hours until we rounded the cape. Once around the cape seas calmed down a lot but the wind still blew! It was an easy trip into the Santa Marta sand box.
The marina is first class but the constant, screaming winds blew sand and coal dust through the marina night and day for two solid weeks! We kept the boat closed and fired up the A/C. The deck had small piles of dirty sand which we are still cleaning out a month later. This is not the kind of cruising we signed up for. This is not the placid anchorage behind a beautiful island we are used to.
But marina life has its advantages. Sophie loved the frequent walks, even though there was no grass around. We became reacquainted with cruisers we had met in the Caribbean and made a lot of new friends. Greg and Caroline from Laquesta were our neighbors. Caroline noticed a rip in our sail cover. She immediately offered to fix it for us. She dragged out her Sailrite machine to the sweltering hot cruiser's lounge and spent several hours making repairs and patches. Thanks Caroline, it looks great now! They also dog-sat Sophie when we traveled to the mountains of Cartagena for a few nights.
We spent Christmas and New Years in the marina. Cruising friends make great substitutes for family when family is far away. We all had good times together. Uproar had a traditional rum punch party for about 40 cruising friends New Year's Eve. We went through about 6 gallons of rum punch!
02 January 2018
Dad took off for his final flight yesterday. I would like to tell you a bit about Dad and his 90 years. But first I want to tell what he meant to me. When I was a young boy, I asked Dad why we refer to God as “Father.” Dad said that a father is someone who loves and protects you and God cares for us all and protects us. He smiled with half-closed eyes. From then on I had a clear image of a loving God.
Dad was born in Denver but lived most of his childhood in Tulsa, OK. He enlisted in the Navy during WW2 but served only briefly due to armistice. He then enrolled at University of Cincinnati in Aeronautical Engineering. Coming from a family of doctors and lawyers, that was quite a divergence. But Dad loved airplanes and built many models as a boy.
He was married to Sylvia, Mom, for 67 years. Dad cared for Mom at home, our house in Kettering, Ohio, they built in 1960. Mom has had Alzheimer's for ten years. Even though she has been completely infirm for much of that time, Dad employed some wonderful ladies to care for Mom at home. He often said, “I love her more every day.” He passed in his sleep at her side.
Dad's love of airplanes became a career as founding member of University of Dayton, Research Institute. UDRI started as a small office in the basement of the UD band building but now employs about 500 people. Dad became head of Aerospace Mechanics, performing research projects on a variety of aerospace applications as well as wind and solar energy and bio-engineering. He retired after 42 years at UDRI.
His love of airplanes continued. Our church, added a gym which Dad thought would be perfect for flying small, rubber band powered airplanes. Dad started a model airplane class for middle school aged kids. They met after school on Tuesdays, built balsa wood airplanes and flew them in the gym. After three months of classes, the parents were invited to a presentation where the kids flew the planes they had built. The gym was filled with wonder as these fragile planes circled up to the ceiling. Dad ran this program with the help of other dedicated men and women for 19 years, teaching around 500 students the basics of flight. Some have gone on to careers in aeronautical engineering.
Tulsa, Oklahoma is far from water but Dad loved boats and where they traveled. Brother Bob, Dad and I all learned to sail together in a heavy, wooden boat on a small lake near Ann Arbor, MI. We would spit in the water to see if we were moving on calm days. When the wind blew, we rushed to go out in the “Whitecap.” Dad taught me only one sailing tip which I was reluctant to accept. We were out in a blow with main and jib sheeted in hard. We were burying the lee rail and the tiller was to my chin with weather helm. Dad said, “I hear if you ease the sheets, we will go even faster.” I turned to Dad and said, “Dad, that can't be right.”
As I built and bought a succession of boats, Dad was always eager to sail with me. He would visit in Milwaukee at a time when he was assured to crew in at least a few races. Lisa and I sailed Uproar out the Great Lakes and stopped in Detroit for a family reunion. Bob arranged for us to race in a local race on Lake St. Claire. Dad, nearly blind, was eager to sail with us. The race started out very light but a squall came through that dismasted one boat and turned the sky black. Dad hung on for dear life, smiling the whole time.
When Lisa and I announced our plans to go world cruising in Uproar, Dad never hesitated in his support. We were fortunate to be able to phone often, he wanted all the details of our voyage. Dad bought us a satellite phone for Christmas so we could keep in touch during the long, Pacific passages. Dad, now we won't need a phone to talk when the sky is lit with stars.
I love you and miss you, Dad.
Las Aves, Land of Birds, Venezuela
20 December 2017
Even more remote than Los Roques, Las Aves are uninhabited islands, halfway between Los Roques and Bonaire. Uproar and Skabenga sailed the 50 miles to Las Aves in ideal conditions. These islands are so low that they are not visible until we were within 7 miles or so. But GPS guided us perfectly into the crescent shaped chain to a quiet bay to anchor.
Well it would have been quiet except for the thousands of birds squaking. Las Aves is a rookery for a dozen species of birds, notably the Red-Footed Booby. They were quite bold, flying so close they went inside our rigging. Uproar sustained a few bird bombs but not that many. Yes, we have found another hidden gem of the Caribbean.
Checking out of Los Roques meant we had no legal standing to be in Venezuela. But there was no one to care and guide books said that if the Coasta Guarda were to approach us, they would merely log our boat name and allow us to stay.
But we weren't alone. There was a camp of fishermen in tents on the beach. They numbered about a dozen and had six open boats. These boats are about 25 feet long with high bows and 70 hp Yamaha outboards. With rudimentary language exchange they explained that they travel from mainland Venezuela, about 60 miles away to fish. They have a cheerful disposition and existence. Yes, they would sell us the two giant lobsters they had for $20US. That is about $2.50/pound.
They wanted sugar so Skabenga donated a kilo for their coffee. The fishermen were very pleased and gave us two large Jacks. These Jacks were fresh and ice cold. They must have brought a huge stash of ice from the mainland. There certainly wasn't any power on the island. Strangely these fishermen wear balaclavas to protect their faces from the sun. They look like bandits but were far from it.
Skully (Skabenga's dinghy) took us touring the mangroves, packed with nesting birds. We got so close we could have touched them. They appeared completely unafraid.
Some of the best snorkeling we have seen was nearby. Water was only about 12 feet deep with rich corals and fish. I brought a spear but couldn't muster the desire to kill anything. Guess I just wasn't hungry enough.
Two days here were nothing but relaxing, eating, swimming and sunset green flashes. Then on to Bonaire.
Los Roques, forbidden islands of Venezuela
20 December 2017
I've posted a lot of pictures from Los Roques, Venezuela on Facebook but this blog is more of our permanent record of the voyage of Uproar.
Venezuela is the forbidden country. Our boat insurance does not cover us for Venezuela, Cuba and a few other areas. This unfortunate country is in turmoil politically and economically. We have seen fishing boats from Venezuela at port in Grenada stocking up on staples that are just not available in Venezuela. Internet search yielded a few recent blogs from sailors who visited Los Roques, an island chain about 60 miles north of the mainland. Reports were nothing but positive about this beautiful island chain and its people.
We sailed from Martinique 375 miles to Los Roques along with Chris on Skabenga. It was a delightful sail of 53 hours, often with spinnaker pulling hard. Grand Roque is the main island and only settlement in the island chain. This charming village is about 6 blocks square, sand streets and colorful buildings. It is a tourist town with airport for well heeled clients from mainland Venezuela. We were the only US boat in the entire island chain and the register at customs didn't show any previous US boats in the page I saw.
Customs and immigration was reported to be a bit of a challenge. We were to first go to the pharmacy and exchange some USD for Bolivar. We found the pharmacy and exchanged $20 for a grocery bag of bills that weighed about 15 pounds! That was not even half of what we needed to clear in. The friendly store owner gestured that we should return in the morning and indicated he would have someone help us through the procedures. Next morning he called a man from the parks district to walk us through the 4 step process. He didn't want any money from us, he indicated that it was his job. There were some waits and difficulties with language but always smiles and courtesy. The final step was to pay. The pharmacist gave us his credit card and we paid him in USD. That's about the only way to pay in Venezuela. Almost no one carries Bolivar. But everyone will take USD!
To celebrate our legal status in Venezuela; Chris, Lisa and I stopped at Cafe Baleena for a beer. This is a charming little restaurant just off the beach with Bob Marley music playing and Budist prayer flags flying. I started singing with Bob and was joined by the owner, Nelly. We had few words in common but were joined in song and spirit. Local Polar beer is served in 9 oz cans. We had four each. Nelly kept bringing plates of breaded fish fingers with a savory sauce and Greek-like spinach pastry. Turned out to be quite a relaxed and filling lunch. All for only $11. Lisa and I returned for dinner that very night. Namaste, Nelly!
The draw of Los Roques is that the island chain consists of hundreds of remote, uninhabited islands. These islands are low, scrubby with beautiful beaches. Low islands mean shallow water which means beautiful turquois shades that swimming pool painters fail to capture. Skabenga and Uproar spent the next 10 days in some of the most beautiful anchorages we have encountered. Some islands had fishing camps for temporary shelter while fishermen worked during the week. They returned home to Grand Roque for weekends. We were able to buy huge lobsters for about $3/pound.
Snorkeling was very good, the water could not have been any clearer and sailing between islands was ideal. Sophie loved the beach walks and Lisa collected some shells. There was a lot of time for relaxing, reading, swimming, star gazing and no internet for two weeks. Ahhh!
We returned to Grand Roque to clear out for customs and immigration. We saw people we had met when clearing in and were greeted warmly. The Supermercado was the only grocery store in Grand Roque. Quick math showed that prices were very low. A French cruiser suggested we contact Paul to buy anything on the island. Inquiries brought us to Paul's door. With limited English he explained he would use his credit card to buy whatever we wanted and we could pay him in USD. We first went to the Supermercado. We filled two bags...$15. Next to the liquor store. Polar beer was about $.30/can, we stocked up with 5 cases. Good, aged rum was $5/bottle. I'll have a dozen please! We heard diesel was cheaper than water. One French cruiser said he got gas for his dinghy. The guy filling the tank didn't have change so he just said, “No problem, no charge.” But Paul gestured that it might be illegal for him to fill my three, 5 gallon cans. He charged me $20 for 15 gallons. OK, let's just call that Paul's commission. That is on top of his less-than-favorable exchange rate. We learned the dollar doubled in value since we cleared in 10 days prior! Still, a real bargain from our normal prices for everything.
As we walked through the village with Paul, we noticed all of the kids had new bicycles! Now the streets are only sand. Some of them were quite loose sand but some packed well. This is not a great place to ride a bike. The kids seemed to be enjoying them but I doubt these bikes will last long in the sand. I asked Paul why the new bikes? He said there was an election in two weeks. In spite of these obvious problems in Venezuela, we were delighted with our visit. The cruising ground ranks as one of our favorites. The people could not have been more friendly and welcoming. We felt completely safe, not locking our dinghy or boat. Don't sail by these delightful islands without stopping!
Thanksgiving at sea
25 November 2017
Thank you for the sea.
Thank you for Lisa, who sails with me.
Thank you for family and friends at home,
who never let us feel alone.
200 miles from Los Roques, Venezuela